Winemakers’ Pets

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By  David Biggs

Everywhere you go in the Cape’s winelands you’ll find animals playing their part in the lives of winemakers and their farms. 

Bongi, the Springbok, was born during the night in a boma in Marienthal in Namibia, where the Bruwer family was collecting a herd of the animals to bring to their wine farm, Springfield, in the Robertson district. When dawn broke, none of the other springbok would claim the little fawn, so she was loaded with the rest and brought all the way to Robertson

Her chances of survival looked slim. Springfield’s Jeanette Bruwer, however, is passionate about animals and was alerted when the lorry carrying the springbok herd was on the way. She stood by with feeding bottles and goat’s milk for the little newcomer.

Bongi grew into a handsome animal and was very much part of the Bruwer family, even travelling in the car with them on their regular outings to their seaside cottage in Struisbaai.

The rest of the springbok herd would have thrived had it not been for nocturnal raids by stray dogs and lynxes, and soon the numbers were down from 150 to a mere 17 animals

In what turned out to be an interesting experiment, Springfield owner and winemaker, Abrie Bruwer, obtained an Anatolian shepherd dog puppy to guard the dwindling herd. The unusual dog, called Felix, has become part of the springbok team and spends all day and night with them and probably sees himself as one of them. Since his arrival the herd has suffered no further losses and the numbers have increased to more than 100. Anatolian shepherd dogs are not supposed to be treated as pets and are bred to spend all their time with their flocks, but Felix sneaks down to the tasting room from time to time during the day to socialise with the family. He’s always back in the paddock with his herd at night, though.

Bongi is now the undisputed queen of the herd and has produced two fawn of her own. She still, however, regards herself as part of the Bruwer family.

A Springbok of another kind, rugby legend Hempies du Toit, keeps a miniature horse called Black Jack on his farm Annandale, near Stellenbosch. Black Jack is less than a metre tall and small enough to ride on the back seat of Hempies’s car. He often wanders into the wine cellar looking for company. Towering taller than the tiny horse is Hempies’s enormous boerboel dog called Bliksem, who is constantly on guard in the farmyard. “Bliksem is the boss of the farm,” says Hempies.

Luna, the Annandale cat, disagrees, of course, but Hempies says she’s a lunatic (hence the name) and doesn’t understand about bosses, particularly if they’re dogs. Several other horses of normal size wander about the farm, and some very amiable chickens are likely to pop into the farm office for a social call.

Almost every Cape winemaker has a canine companion, some large, some small, and some even portable.

Bartho Eksteen of Hermanuspietersfontein in Hermanus has two dogs. He calls one his fair-weather dog and the other his bad-weather dog. The former is a toy poodle called Kleinboet, who always accompanies Bartho on his Vespa scooter (riding in a baby sling) and the other is a large German shepherd called Coza (as in co.za) that can’t understand that she’s too big for the scooter.

Bartho says Coza is a natural landscape gardener, always digging great holes in which to plant trees. Mrs Eksteen, who is a keen gardener, has banned Coza from the garden, so she spends her time climbing the steel catwalks and staircases in the cellar.

When it comes to farm dogs, however, Stonehill Farm in the Devon Valley near Stellenbosch must take first prize. Owner Lorna Hughes works tirelessly for animal welfare and has about 15 dogs of various sizes and shapes around her at any time. Nine of them are her own and the rest are fostered animals awaiting new owners.

One of Lorna’s dogs, Bristle, has become the farm’s trademark and appears on every wine label. In America, where Lorna’s wines have found a ready market, they are not allowed to use the name Stonehill as it is already a registered winery name in the US. Instead, their wines are sold simply as Bristle—a red and a white blend.

Another of Lorna’s dogs has been given the name Bubbles because, as she explains, it has the character of a good MCC sparkler. Apart from being a rather cute, woolly animal of mixed ancestry, Bubbles is a dedicated mole hunter. The killer instinct is only skin-deep, however, as Bubbles is passionately fond of babies and will guard them all day long, given a chance. There’s no better baby sitter when Lorna’s grandchild comes to visit. 

Polla the pig, 300 ducks, and more Polla

Not far from Stonehill is probably the strangest collection of animals in the whole of the Cape wine world. At Middelvlei, close to Stellenbosch, the Momberg family keep a menagerie that even includes eight wallabies. “It’s a long story,” says Ben Momberg, casually adding: “I got them in exchange for some parrot chicks.” (As one does, of course.)

Popular with young visitors to the farm are the two donkeys, Port and Jerepigo, while the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig called Polla keeps adults entertained. The three farm dogs, Papsak (boerboel), Merlot (great Dane) and Grappa (dachshund) are energetic greeters. With them you’re always assured of a warm welcome to Middelvlei. Various nameless tortoises also roam the farmyard, and the Mombergs say they help to keep youngsters entertained while their parents get on with the serious business of tasting (and hopefully buying) the Middelvlei wines.

The flock of Indian Runner ducks at Vergenoegd is a daily crowd pleaser, and many visitors come to the farm specially to watch the evening duck parade. Owner John Faure breeds the birds and sends them out into the vineyards daily to control the snails attacking his vines.

But in the late afternoon the ducks—about 300 of them—come home to bed, marching in a long, quacking regiment past the historic manor house where enthralled visitors wield their cameras.

Before heading to their quarters, the ducks present a parade back and forth in front of the house for the benefit of visitors. Not many people have seen so many ducks together. Their photographs must have reached every corner of the world by now.

Cats, of course, don’t “belong” to anybody, but several of them live on wine farms and have appeared on wine labels. Spot the lurking cat on the Waterkloof Circle of Life range. The team at Four Paws Wines is passionate about cats and you’ll see their feline footprints on the wine labels. When it comes to elegance and balance, they say, we try to infuse our wines with the same features you’ll see in a cat walking delicately along a garden wall.

For those who love a cat story, I have been assured the cat depicted on the label of the Flat Roof Manor range of wines is a ghost cat.

Apparently a cat is seen from time to time, high on the parapet of the classical Georgian manor house at Uitkyk Estate. 

There hasn’t been a resident cat there for some years, but sometimes, when the moon is full and the north wind howls in the treetops, look upwards…